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Native American Reservations in Dire Need of Better Jails, Get Money to Build More

Native American Reservations in Dire Need of Better Jails, Get Money to Build More

In August 2008, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) closed its jail in Pine Ridge, South Dakota due to deteriorating conditions, saying the jail was unsafe for prisoners and guards alike. The prisoners were temporarily transferred to the tribal-owned Convicted Offenders Facility. “The BIA deemed the old jail unsafe for human occupation because of health and safety, and security issues,” stated Joe Herman, Oglola Sioux Tribe Police Chief.

U.S. Senator John Thune said Native American reservations in South Dakota and other states are facing an ever-increasing problem with their criminal justice systems. Thune has been pushing for more money for justice-related resources on reservations; he lobbied for an amendment to a spending bill that would provide federal funds for Native American law enforcement programs, including detention centers.

“It sounds like that jail was just a train wreck in terms of a facility,” said Thune. “There has been so much neglect for such a long time we have detention facilities on the reservations that are in complete states of despair.” The BIA plans to build a temporary detention center at Pine Ridge while awaiting a more permanent solution. “We need to improve the criminal justice system on that reservation so that people have a basic level of safety and security that every citizen of this country deserves,” Thune stated.

Senator Jon Kyl, who co-sponsored Thune’s spending bill amendment, noted a 2008 study by the Dept. of the Interior, the Shubnum report, found that tribal jails were overcrowded, posed a risk to prisoners and staff, and were in need of substantial improvements.

In July 2008, the U.S. Senate approved $2 billion for public safety, health care and water supply projects on Native American reservations (S. 2731). Of that funding, $680 million will go to the BIA and U.S. Dept. of Justice for law enforcement purposes, including building new jails and improving or replacing existing facilities.

Recently, Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, has been lobbying the BIA – presumably sensing a potential market for privatizing BIA-run jails. Now that millions have been allocated for detention centers on Native American reservations, CCA will likely intensify its efforts to get a piece of that lucrative pie.

Sources: Rapid City Journal, Congressional record

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